Back to the Middle Ages

Parag Khanna, senior research fellow at the New America Foundation, looks hopefully at the world stage and says we’ve been here before:

Imagine a world with a strong China reshaping Asia; India confidently extending its reach from Africa to Indonesia; Islam spreading its influence; a Europe replete with crises of legitimacy; sovereign city-states holding wealth and driving innovation; and private mercenary armies, religious radicals and humanitarian bodies playing by their own rules as they compete for hearts, minds and wallets….

[T]he world we are moving into in 2011 is one not just with many more prominent nations, but one with numerous centres of power in other ways. It is, in short, a neo-medieval world. The 21st century will resemble nothing more than the 12th century.

According to Khanna, the United States plays the role of the Byzantine Empire, “facing both east and west while in a state of relative decline. The Byzantines lasted for many centuries beyond their material capability, through shrewd diplomacy and deception rather than by force.”

Khanna is right about the general global trends, and tying today’s events to debatable 12th century parallels is fun for history nerds like me, but beyond that, I’m not sure what we can really take away from this. History looks backward and forward, both resembling and departing from the past, and there are too many variables at play to come to any firm conclusions about the future. The most we can say is this: The power balance between nations, cultures, and religions is always in flux. We make a serious mistake when we conclude that we live at the culmination of history, and that things as they exist today will remain. 

Brian Saint-Paul

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Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

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